Some Must Watch is the novel that inspired the thrilling old movie The Spiral Staircase. Ethel Lina White, the author, was one of the early women mystery writers, another novel of hers being the basis of the movie The Lady Vanishes.
This novel centers around an isolated country house, the home of Professor Sebastian Warren, his mother, sister, son, and daughter-in-law. The main character is Helen Capel, a servant in the household.
At the beginning of the novel, Helen is coming back to the house at dusk. She is worried because she must pass through a desolate landscape and young women have been murdered in the district. Her way takes her through a plantation, but she changes direction because she thinks she sees a man lurking among the trees.
The novel takes place in the space of one night during a violent storm. At the beginning of the evening, everyone becomes alarmed because another dead woman is found dead near the local pub and Dr. Parry thinks she was killed in the same plantation where Helen saw someone. The house is full of people, so the Professor decides that they should all stay inside during the storm and not admit anyone, and they will be safe.
However, as the evening continues, one incident after another occurs that causes the people to leave the house. After a while, it seems to Helen as if some intelligence is working so that she will be alone to face the killer.
In some ways, this novel seemed rather crude, especially in the interactions between characters and the dialogue. I have run into this before with novels of a certain vintage and am not sure if it reflects people’s actual behavior and way of speaking at the time, the expectations of the genre, or simply the ability of the writer. Not very much attention is given to character development either. The focus is squarely on the plot. Still, I think the novel is interesting as representative of an early thriller.
Occasionally I comment on the publication quality of a book. I believe that my copy is an on demand publication by Between Things (not the one pictured above). Its biggest eccentricities are the starting of chapters on the left page and a typographic oddity of placing an underscore before and after phrases that I assumed were in italics in the original. There were a few other careless errors but not as many as I have noticed lately in some other regular press runs. Still, I am beginning to avoid on demand printing, if I recognize it ahead of time.